President Trump signed a national security presidential memorandum last week that will establish a “National Vetting Center” to “identify potential threats to national security, border security, homeland security, and public safety.” The National Vetting Center will be run by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), together with the Justice Department, the State Department, and other intelligence agencies. These agencies must establish the center in six months, with no additional funding.
While the actual changes to the vetting process are unknown at this point, DHS states that the “safety and security of the American people is the highest priority for this Administration,” and that the National Vetting Center will improve the federal government’s “ability to identify terrorists, criminals, and other nefarious actors, including those who seek a visa, visa waiver, or an immigration benefit, or a protected status; attempt to enter the United States; or are subject to an immigration removal proceedings.” Claiming the current “ad hoc” nature of vetting is ineffective, DHS says that the National Vetting Center will better coordinate and integrate the use of intelligence among various federal agencies to identify potential threats. The creation of the National Vetting Center follows President Trump’s repeated calls for more "extreme vetting" of immigrants as well as last year’s travel bans and travel restrictions, currently under review by the Supreme Court, which primarily targeted individuals from Muslim-majority countries.
To protect privacy and civil rights, DHS says that the National Vetting Center operations will be governed by a National Vetting Governance Board, who will create a legal group and civil liberties working group to ensure that privacy laws are followed. Despite this, activists and immigration practitioners question the necessity for such a center and are concerned that innocent immigrants would be targeted unfairly. Faiza Patel, co-director of the Liberty & National Security Program at the Brennan Center for Justice, says: “We already rigorously vet people traveling to the US, so it is unclear what value such a center would add. In all likelihood it is simply another means of implementing the administration’s unnecessary and discriminatory policies, such as so-called ‘extreme vetting.’”